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Habit 3: Putting First Things First (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Habit 3: Putting First Things First

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least – Goethe

Management is different from leadership. Leadership is mostly a high-powered, right-brain activity. It is an art and is based on a philosophy. You have to ask yourself broad questions about life to deal with personal leadership issues. Without being in the right jungle, managing well doesn’t matter. But if you are in the jungle, left-brain management is critical for effectiveness.

The Power of Independent Will

Independent will makes effective self-management possible, in addition to self-awareness, imagination and conscience. The degree to which you have developed independent will depends on how much integrity you have. Integrity comes from your ability to make and keep commitments to yourself.

One of my favorite essays is “The Common Denominator of Success,” written by E. M. Gray. He spent his life searching for the one denominator that all successful people share. He found it wasn’t hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, though those were all important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest embodies the essence of Habit 3: Putting First Things First.

Four Generations of Time Management

The third habit usually draws on principles of time management, a field that has evolved in the same way as any other area of human endeavor. Waves or major developmental thrusts follow one another in succession. Each adds a new crucial element. Each generation builds on the one before. The first generation of time management was notes and checklists. The second was calendars and appointment books. The third is the current time management field. It clarifies values, it sets goals – short, intermediate, and long-term. It includes daily planning, scheduling your highest priority activities for the day.

But this approach has limitations, it gets in the way of forming rich relationships, meet human needs, and enjoy spontaneity every day. Therefore, people have turned away from time management systems that have restricted them too much. They go back to first or second-generation techniques to fulfill the holes created by the third-generation technique. But there is a fourth-generation system that is different, it recognizes that the focus should not be to manage time, but to manage yourself.

Quadrant II

The essential focus of the fourth generation of management can be captured in the Time Management Matrix.

Fourth Generation Time-Management Matrix
Fourth Generation Time-Management Matrix

We spend time in one of four ways. There are two factors that define every activity: they are urgent and important. Urgent means ‘Now’ – your immediate attention. A ringing phone, for example. Urgent things are obvious, they press on you to act. They’re usually easy and fun to do, but they too often are unimportant.

Importance is about results. If something is important, it contributes to your mission, values, and goals. If you don’t know what’s important, your time will be dominated by only urgent activities, and never important ones.

Looking at the matrix, Quadrant I contains things that are both urgent and important, significant results that need your attention. But most of these things are problems, and they consume people. If you keep focusing on this quadrant, it will dominate your life. Some people deal with these things all day, and need to resort to Quadrant IV –not important, not urgent activities – for relief. If you manage your live by crisis, you spend most of your time in Quadrant I, a little in Quadrant II and barely any in Quadrants II and III.

People who spend their time between Quadrants III and IV live very irresponsibly. Effective people spend minimal time in these quadrants. They also spend more time in Quadrant II, which helps them shrink their Quadrant I requirements.

To do things in Quadrant II, you have to say ‘no’ to other activities – even those that seem urgent.

Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. It deals with things that are not urgent but are important. It deals with things like building relationships, writing a personal mission statement, long-range planning, exercising, preventive maintenance, preparation — all those things we know we need to do, but somehow seldom get around to doing, because they aren’t urgent.

 

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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